Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Knitting and Thinking Harder about Handmade

On average, I knit about one scarf each winter, using the most basic knit pattern, which is the limit of my knitting skills. This year I got a headstart and already completed one scarf for a birthday gift. In the past I have simply picked out yarn from a store based on cost, color, and feel. However, while making homemade gifts and buying handmade items has become a rallying cry and an important way to keep money out of corporation's pockets and support small businesses instead, sometimes simply handmade is not enough. In fact, one of the benefits of handmade is that you can exert more of a direct influence over the materials used.

So I started to think harder about the source of my scarf materials. If it's wool, what were the conditions of the animals raised for wool? Did the wool travel halfway around the globe to get to me, from Australia and New Zealand, which are the leading wool producers? If it's cotton yarn, what about pesticides? If it's acrylic, it's manufactured with polycrylonitriles, which may be carcinogenic. And then there are the dyes, probably laden with toxins rubbing up against your chin as you try to keep warm.

This batch of yarn came from happy sheep upstate, care of Catskill Merino, a farm that sells lamb meat and hand-dyed wool at the Union Square Greenmarket on Saturdays. You may have noticed their gorgeously colored natural-dyed skeins while passing through the market. This fascinating Osage and Logwood color looks gray-green indoors with highlights of lime green in sunlight. The yarn is soft and I loved working with it. It wasn't that much more expensive than "nice" wool at a regular yarn store, so I felt it was worth it. There are many other eco-friendly yarn options out there, and alternatively, you could also check out your local thrift store for yarn or unravel an old sweater to reuse.

I like that kniting lets me relax and feel productive at the same time. It's a welcome way to slow down in this busy era of life when I feel I should always be accomplishing something with my time. The repetitive process is a meditative kind of multi-tasking, knitting while sitting around the living room watching TV with roommates or chatting on the subway.

I've got more yarn leftover from a lazy scarf fail last year, so I think a friend or family member might find a scarf under their tree this December. Who wants one? I'm considering expanding my repertoire to add some kind of pattern this time. This holiday season, I challenge you to also not only buy or make handmade gifts, but to think harder about handmade.

hanging yarn photo via flickr


  1. i love that you got your yarn from a farm! i really need to get back into knitting because you really can give the best handmade gifts through knitting. i am hoping to start early so i can make most of my gifts. i would love to see the scarves when you're done! xo

  2. Yes! We must do something soon! We're actually moving to Astoria in December, so something in the next couple of weeks!

  3. Of course I had to stop and comment here as you probably know I'm obsessed with knitting and fibers! I am so on board with everything you said. I sometimes buy yarns from Knit Picks simply because it is cheap and allows me to buy enough yarn for larger projects (like the sweater I'm working on). But I'm becoming more and more involved with the local fiber artists in my town and hope to be able to know where all my wool and yarn comes from in the near future.

  4. it's kinda fun to know where your scarf came from from start to finish!

    btw, your stitches are so even!

  5. coley - good luck with making your gifts - let us know how they turn out!

    green spell - that's great that you are getting to know your local fiber artists...and that you can make sweaters. i would love to make a lil cape but i have no idea how to figure that out.

    very married - my stitches may be even, but a lady on the subway pointed out that i wasn't doing an extra thing to make the sides even...oh well.

  6. uggg. i am a terrible knitter... please teach me your ways....

  7. absolutely. i think it can be really easy to get caught up with the lovely handmade-ness of things, forgetting you bought the raw materials just like buying a finished good! thanks for the reminder - inspired me to think a bit more about where my next yarn comes from

    ps - for a really easy but effective scarf pattern, I love this one:

  8. love that shot of hanging yarn. gorg.

  9. Jules, what a great post. Been waiting to see what you've been up to since all that pickling! I used to be such a devoted knitter in college and in the years in NYC afterwards, and now I've let the past few winters creep by without much progress on a pair of mittens I started in what, 2008? Shame on me.

    I'm a big fan of natural dyes and local wool, so I love knowing about your source at Catskill Merino! There's a whole world of natural dying and spinning in New England- so many wonderful farms to support. Big hugs from India. xo

  10. Lily - well you were in the desert and now india, you haven't really needed mittens. knitting will be waiting for you when you return to cold weather.
    also, that's awesome that your frends started a brewery! looks like they're having a grand old time with it.

    LK - thanks for sharing that pattern!